BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday that 173 Iraqi detainees _ malnourished and showing signs of torture _ were found at an Interior Ministry basement lockup seized by U.S. forces in Baghdad. The discovery appeared to validate Sunni complaints of abuse by the Shiite-controlled ministry.
The revelation about the mostly Sunni Arab detainees by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was deeply embarrassing to the government as critics in the United States and Britain question the U.S. strategy for building democracy in a land wracked by insurgency, terrorism and sectarian tension.
"I was informed that there were 173 detainees held at an Interior Ministry prison and they appear to be malnourished," al-Jaafari said of Sunday's raid at a detention center in the fashionable Jadriyah district. "There is also some talk that they were subjected to some kind of torture."
One detainee had been crippled by polio and others suffered "different wounds," the deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, said without elaboration.
Al-Jaafari, a Shiite, promised a full investigation and punishment for anyone found guilty of torture.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the Bush administration found the reports troubling.
"We don't practice torture, and we don't believe that others should practice torture," said the spokesman, Adam Ereli. "We think that there should be an investigation and those who are responsible should be held accountable."
But the head of Iraq's largest Sunni political party said he had spoken to al-Jaafari and other government officials about torture at Interior Ministry detention centers, including the one where the detainees were found.
Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the government routinely dismissed his complaints, calling the prisoners "former regime elements," meaning Saddam Hussein loyalists.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, who commanded the troops in Sunday's raid, said American and Iraqi forces plan to carry out checks at every Interior Ministry detention facility in Baghdad, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was not immediately clear why U.S. forces chose to move in on Sunday.
"We're going to hit every single one of them, every single one of them," the Times quoted Horst as saying.
Sunni politicians have been complaining of torture, abuse and arbitrary arrest by special commandos of the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry since the current government took power last April.